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September 24, 2018 | by  | in The International Angle |
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The International Angle

Mental health is not a unique problem to international students. But international students coming from different cultural backgrounds face unique challenges.

International students come with high expectations of ourselves thriving in New Zealand. But the reality is that we face stress, lack of sense of belonging, language barrier, relationship problems, crises from home, and financial problems. Most international students avoid professional help due to the stigma (of “craziness”) attached to mental problems. Neither do they tell their closest family members. In many of our home countries, it is a taboo to talk about mental health. International students spend around $50,000 per year on tuition and accommodation fees, which for most students is funded by their parents. A V-ISA survey carried out in 2016 showed that 69% of international students stated that their parents are willing to forgo their savings just to fund their studies. Seeking help or even talking about challenges they face with their family is seen as adding unnecessary burden on them.
Low self-esteem, not speaking-up about their problems, and self-blame are characteristics that many international students identify with. Many of us feel an overwhelming sense of shame and guilt for spending our parents’ money while watching them struggle back home. We often compare ourselves with domestic students. We envy the fact that they can be so independent and move out of home, to work; yet many of us are still relying on our parents. Most of us struggle with university because of the above reasons. We cannot afford to work because that extra $100 per week from working in a part-time job could result in having to retake a $3,790 paper. Grades are highly valued overseas, we come here to get good grades. If not, we fail our parents.
Rising living costs and shitty accommodation add to our stress. What we are getting out of our investment in our education falls significantly short from our expectations and the promises made to us before we arrived in New Zealand. What can we do? Nothing much. We can protest but when we do, to the university or to our landlords, we get nothing out of it. Many of us just keep to ourselves, because we are jaded by the fact that we will not be taken seriously.
Worse, we need to compete with domestic students to get our voices heard and get our points across because we are “them”, the “foreigners”. Another common stereotype is that international students are loaded, that we have the money and we should not complain. In reality the majority of us are not rich. Most international students want to engage with domestic students, we want to break the cultural barriers. We want to work together as a community to fix the common problems we face.
I sometimes, or often enough, contemplate dropping out, and just getting the fuck out of New Zealand. But part of me want to stay on because I feel that without someone to encourage students to speak out or to represent them, we will continue to be marginalized.

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Salient is a magazine. Salient is a website. Salient is an institution founded in 1938 to cater to the whim and fancy of students of Victoria University. We are partly funded by VUWSA and partly by gold bullion that was discovered under a pile of old Salients from the 40's. Salient welcomes your participation in debate on all the issues that we present to you, and if you're a student of Victoria University then you're more than welcome to drop in and have tea and scones with the contributors of this little rag in our little hideaway that overlooks Wellington.

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